IRL: Indy 500: Team Penske Pit Notes 2002-05-07

Marlboro Team Penske prepares for pole day at Indy. Qualifying for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is less than a week away and Marlboro Team Penske is spending its first week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway concentrating...

Marlboro Team Penske prepares for pole day at Indy.

Qualifying for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is less than a week away and Marlboro Team Penske is spending its first week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway concentrating on its qualifying set-up for this Saturday's Pole Day. While it may seem like a simple task to qualify for a race, the procedures for the Indianapolis 500 are much different than any race in the 2002 season.

First and foremost, Pole Day is generally the only day on which a driver can earn the pole for the race. The rules state that the pole position is decided by the fastest qualifier on the first day, or the fastest qualifier after one trip through the original qualifying line, whichever comes last. A driver's qualifying speed is the average speed of the four-lap run, not the fastest lap of the four.

The fastest 33 qualifiers start the race, regardless of when or on which day they qualified. Each car can make three qualification attempts. When a car completes a four-lap attempt, its speed becomes official. When the field has reached its capacity of 33 cars, the slowest qualifier is considered to be "on the bubble" and may be bumped by a faster qualifier. The car may not re-qualify, however if the car is "bumped" or withdrawn, the driver may qualify in another car. A successful qualifier is always inserted into the field according to its speed ranking within the day on which it posted its official time and speed. This process continues until the allotted time for qualification expires.

With the first day of qualifying just four days away, Marlboro Team Penske will be diligently working on their qualifying set-up throughout the week. Here's a brief look at Penske Racing's Pole Day performance over the past 27 years:

* A record 11 poles in 66 attempts (17%).

* A record five wins from the pole ('94, '91, '88, '81 and '79).

* Five different pole winners -- Al Unser Jr., Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi, Bobby Unser and Tom Sneva.

* Consecutive poles from '88-'91.

* Rick Mears holds the record for wins from the pole with three ('91, '88 and '79).

* A front row sweep in '88 (Mears won the pole, and Danny Sullivan and Al Unser started second and third respectively).

* The last win from the pole came from Al Unser Jr. in '94.

* A record 29 front row starts in 66 attempts (44%).

* 37 top-five starts (56%) and 49 top-ten starts (74%).


"Pole day at Indianapolis was always the most pressure filled day for me because you have to be able to go out on the track and do four perfect laps," said 4-time Indy 500 winner and 6-time Indy 500 pole sitter Rick Mears. "During the race you have 500 miles to dial in the car and get it to where you want it for the final 50 laps, but during qualifying it's just those four laps and you have to be sure that your car is set-up exactly right for the track conditions."

"Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 is very unique," said two-time National Champion Gil de Ferran. "The first challenge is that you have to complete four laps, and it is very hard to keep the car consistent over the qualifying run. The second challenge is the extra pressure to make the grid given there are more cars attempting to qualify than there are starting spots. The third thing is the prestige that comes with capturing the pole. Once we're over those three hurdles, our thoughts turn to having a good car for the race. Given it's a 500-mile event, starting position is not as crucial, what's important is having a consistent car."

"It's always important to start from the front row because you reduce your risk of being caught up in an incident and ideally you avoid any trouble at the start," said 2001 Indianapolis 500 Winner Helio Castroneves. "However, Indianapolis is a 500-mile race and if you have a good car that you can work with you have time to be patient and make your way to the front. This week, we'll spend as much time working on our qualifying set-up as the weather permits. Hopefully we'll be able to get a good starting spot on Saturday and spend next week concentrating on our race car."

"The key for qualifying is obviously to be able to put in what we consider to be a safe time that will put us solidly in the field so we can begin to focus on the race," said Penske Racing, Inc. President Tim Cindric. "This week we'll spend preparing for qualifying and next week our focus will be on race preparation. If we're in a situation where it looks like we might be able to challenge for the first few spots then we might look at it a bit differently, but the main thing is to stay simple and not out trick ourselves with different philosophies and things to do."


While qualifying won't take place until this Saturday afternoon, the paddock has its share of estimates for what the top speed will be during qualifying. Here's a look at what some of the key Marlboro Team Penske personnel think will be the average speed needed to capture the pole: <pre> Helio Castroneves 229.6 mph Rick Mears 227.1 mph Tim Cindric, President, Penske Racing, Inc. 227.8 mph Clive Howell, General Manager, Marlboro Team Penske 227.5 mph Tom Wurtz, Team Manager, Marlboro Team Penske 228.3 mph Andy Borme, Chief Engineer, Helio Castroneves 228.2 mph Rick Rinaman, Crew Chief, Helio Castroneves 228.7 mph Tom German, Chief Engineer, Gil de Ferran 226.8 mph Matt Jonsson, Crew Chief, Gil de Ferran 228.7 mph


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Rick Mears , Bobby Unser , Tom Sneva , Danny Sullivan , Al Unser
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske